Innovative Applications of Technical Textiles in Healthcare Industry

2016-07-13 | Future Market Insights | Chemicals & Materials

Technical textile is an umbrella term for a plethora of textiles used not for aesthetics but for function and performance. Simply put, they are high performance fabrics primarily used for non-consumer applications. Also known as industrial textiles, technical textiles have successfully triggered progressive and technological advancements, eventually leading to the ability to be used in a sweeping range of industries, including agriculture, healthcare and medical, clothing and apparel, construction, transport and packaging, domestic, military, and sports.

Technical Textiles in Healthcare Sector

To be particular about the applications of technical textiles in medical and healthcare industry, the list is extensive and ongoing research is expected to add up a lot more. Cotton, polyester, silk, and polyamide fabrics are commonly used in primary healthcare applications such as diapers, paddings, swabs, wound care products, braces, wipes, masks, bedding covers, belts, and surgical accessories. With the advent of technology in medical world, it is now possible to use technical textiles not only in direct contact with human skin but also inside the body, in form of an implant performing a vital body function.

The performance and protection that these textiles offer are unmatched. Moreover, they are proven to be extremely comfortable. Let us take a quick look at the functional areas that technical textiles currently serve in medical and healthcare world.

·         Primary healthcare and hygiene

Clothing, surgical clothing, bedding, baby and adult diapers, sanitary napkins, bandages, filters, protective and supportive material, and surgical sutures

·         Implantable material

Soft tissue implants, biodegradable and non-biodegradable sutures, artificial ligaments and tendon meshes, artificial joints and cartilage, cardiovascular and orthopedic implants, vascular grafts, heart valves, and artificial skin

·         Non-implantable material

Absorbent wound care pads, orthopedic bandages, elastic and inelastic bandages, and plasters

·         Extracorporeal device

Artificial liver, kidney, lungs, and mechanical heart

·         Delivery of drugs

Hollow synthetic fibres, along with nano-particles, are effectively used for drug delivery to a particular body part.

Characteristics of Technical Textiles Ideal for Use in Healthcare

Generally made using monofilament and multifilament yarns, knitted fabrics, woven and nonwoven fabrics, and composite structures.

·         Exclusively designed to deliver inimitable strength, flexibility, tenacity, absorbency, and biodegradability

·         Possess vital features such as softness and permeability to both moisture and air.

·         The most important attributes include non-allergic nature, non-toxicity, non-carcinogenicity, and sterilisability without any physical or chemical damage or structural alteration.

While these textiles are specifically designed to cater to particular needs, they are all highly specialised in their structure and function, in addition to being bio-compatible with special antimicrobial finishes. They are highly durable and exhibit resistance to adverse chemical and natural factors.

The required application determines what attributes a textile will have; some applications might compel it to be protective, others may need it to be impermeable, and the rest might require a highly absorptive one. These textiles are remarkably manufactured from nonwoven fabrics and are meant to be easily disposable in nature. It is an environmentally positive sign that disposables are rapidly taking over non-disposables in the global healthcare textile marketplace.

Smart Technical Textiles for Wearable Health Monitoring

Monitoring healthcare in case of patients under continuous medical treatment has always been a challenging feat for medical and healthcare professionals. To help accomplish this, technical textiles can help. Increasing the mobility of patients with constant healthcare assistance, is the ultimate target. Researchers are already working on developing wearable systems to monitor and measure patients’ vital physiological functions. These monitoring systems can virtually keep a check on the parameters, including cardiac activity, pulse rate, body temperature, and respiratory movements. They can be better referred to as smart textiles, assuring the utmost comfort to patients. Though more research about this is still in progress, it is unquestionably going to be an absolute breakthrough in the world of technical textiles.  

As far as the personal health betterment is concerned, technical textiles can prove to be of immense help. As everyone wears textiles that are aesthetic, breathable, and comfortable, it has been found that those textiles can be structurally manipulated with integration of electronics. In addition to enabling individuals to closely monitor health, they would deliver better comfort and appearance as well. Not to mention, these wearable textiles would not be easily noticeable to users and others. Although extensive research persists on how to exactly integrate electronics in textiles, a few major challenges are already there to limit the experimentation. Researchers experimenting with weaving electronics in textiles and printing electronics on textile surfaces, are finding it difficult to achieve seamless integration of both, maintaining the desired characteristics of the material, including flexibility, comfort, and breathability. The aesthetic appearance is not a prime concern while manufacturing these textiles but researchers and manufacturers are now deliberately focusing on that aspect because the market is growing and aesthetics are prioritised by a major population.

Research Prospects and Current Market Status

Ongoing research in the industry is anticipated to discover a few specialised applications of antimicrobial and antifungal fibres in barrier fabrics, which are already being used as post-operative abdominal binders. Other research areas include applications of technical textiles in wound management, surgical treatments, neurodermatitis treatment, integrated electronic fabrics, and tissue engineering.

The technical textile market is one of the most dynamic industries all over the globe. However, medical and healthcare textiles have surpassed almost other sectors on this market. The demand and growth in the Western market as well as in developing Asian markets clearly highlight the fast pace at which the market is thriving. Considering the status of nonwoven, bio-disposable textiles, better prospects cannot be overstated. The key reasons behind relatively quicker popularity of medical and healthcare textiles include increased population, improved standard of living, emergence of a host of medical and healthcare conditions, rising awareness about healthcare among people, and advancing technologies. High performance textiles used in healthcare segment are certainly the future of technical textile world. This industry is potentially one of the largest global markets with the ability to efficiently serve multiple industries under one roof.